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Legacy of Gershwin is being revived

The American popular song may be our most loved contribution to the musical arts _ with the Gershwins the masters of the form that also owes a debt to some vocal greats.

Some say jazz is America's only original art form, according to an article in the current issue of Harper's Bazaar, but film composer and teacher David Raksin, who wrote the music for Laura, disagrees.

"I think that our country's greatest musical gift to the world is the American popular song," he said. "I'm talking about the songs of Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Frank Loesser, Harry Warren, Jule Styne, Vincent Youmans, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Arthur Schwartz, Hoagy Carmichael, Stephen Sondheim.

"It is the most incredible flowering ever of that period of music."

Alone among Broadway composers, George Gershwin has become a cultural deity, considered an American Mozart since his death from a brain tumor in 1937 at age 38. Ira Gershwin, who wrote the lyrics for most of his brother's tunes, died in 1983 at age 86.

Over the past decade, their music has been canonized by everyone from Woody Allen in the sound track for the movie Manhattan to Tommy Tune, around whose talents the Broadway hit My One and Only was created, using Gershwin standards.

This month, Crazy for You, opens on Broadway _ a $7.5-million musical that's a remake of the 1930 Girl Crazy with a new book by playwright Ken Ludwig, who wrote Lend Me a Tenor.

There also have been new recordings _ The Gershwins in Hollywood, sung by Gregory Hines and Patti Austin; The Gershwin Connection, a treasury of Gershwin tunes arranged by jazz impresario Dave Grusin, and the complete score of the 1927 Gershwin show Strike Up The Band, largely reconstructed from long-lost manuscripts.

The album is part of a project to restore and record all the Gershwin musicals.

A film biography of the brothers is in the early stages of preparation, with Martin Scorsese directing.

Music historian Deena Rosenberg has written Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin.

Gershwin was the only major songwriter for the theater who started out in Tin Pan Alley and eventually won acceptance as a concert and operatic composer. He did it in less than 20 years.